The Evolution of Cityworks Development

 

This is from a 2011 Cityworks InPrint article and may now contain outdated material and may not reflect current directions in product development. The article is preserved so you can contrast changes to the software.

The last two years have seen the entire Cityworks suite of products evolve substantially, with focus coming from two directions – technological and functional enhancements. Technological improvements primarily consider trends in the software industry as a whole, while functional enhancements follow industry-related trends. Technology has moved from a purely desktop application – client/server model – to a mixed platform of thin (desktop) browser clients, mobile clients, and traditional desktop applications.

Due to a number of technical and user needs, Azteca Systems made a significant investment to maintain application cross-compatibility across these diverging platform environments. In addition to supporting new user platforms like Microsoft Silverlight, Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), GPS, and the latest releases of Esri’s ArcGIS, web service integration is now a stable element of the software. In the last two years, we completely rewrote our core browser engine to support Silverlight, enhancing the user experience in interacting with the GIS. We also added significant capabilities for integration through a variety of web services, such as the creation of service requests and work orders to open up new avenues for customer-specific points-of-entry into the system.

From a functional perspective, Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) in local government changed direction with more focus on life cycle management. At the same time, we saw increased awareness of the importance of the geodatabase as the asset repository along with the demand for customizable user environments and close integration of external data to/from external sources (GPS, agency websites, financial systems, reporting software, and others).

Cityworks Server’s InBox provides a perfect template to a variety of integration points with other business systems, such as reporting, charting, and tracking EAM data. We recently fine-tuned the ability to completely customize the user experience in Cityworks Server AMS, including the layout of menus, forms, themes, required fields, custom data fields, etc. Beyond traditional work activities, the increased awareness of life cycle management also brings new capabilities to Cityworks, including condition assessment with a variety of industry-standard models.

Cityworks Server PLL
Azteca Systems invested significant resources into the continued development of Cityworks Server PLL (Permitting, Licensing, and Land). Its GIS capabilities use the same code set as our AMS software, providing identical user experiences in both applications as well as a large variety of new enhancements and business licensing.

In general, our plan is to continue with technological enhancements for the current model of mixed platforms. While it is very difficult to conceive the future of technology beyond one year, we remain fully committed to keeping our research and development up with the current standards. As a general rule, we do not attempt to develop for every new technology. Instead, we focus on researching those that seem to offer our clients the greatest benefit with a long-standing foundation for ongoing support from their contributing manufacturers and ourselves.

Cityworks Anywhere
Our most significant technology investment for the coming year is the redevelopment of Cityworks Anywhere. This entails a complete rewrite of the current application to enable sharing the same underlying business logic, ArcGIS map display, and database transaction libraries as our Server applications.

Some of the more interesting aspects of the new application are a completely customizable user interface using XAML editing tools like Microsoft Expression, an architecture that supports standardized third-party plug-ins, GIS-display support for network and mobile users, and the ability to create a local version of the Cityworks and GIS databases for disconnected field use. Our focus is to increase its overall GIS capabilities and equip small footprint mobile environments, such as cell phones and other handheld devices.

Esri Development
Azteca is also heavily involved in Esri’s development process with a number of products. In 2010, Azteca Systems became an Esri Platinum Partner. Our inclusion in this highest level of the Esri Partner Network provides us with constant updates and insights into new development efforts and live interaction with Esri developers.

Through this relationship, we are working closely with Esri’s ArcGIS Engine group to develop a new product targeting mobile users in disconnected and connected network environments. We provide input on key functionality as well as testing pre-beta software. We also participate in all regular beta programs for ArcGIS Server, Desktop, and other related applications. Our involvement gives us the ability to not only incorporate new functionality faster but to offer our input into its development.
Mobile Use
Since its inception, mobile use of Cityworks has been a prominent element of our software design. DataPump, the tool used to create a locally replicated database for field users, is still a critical component in many Cityworks installations. Recent additions to the mobile products line include the web app solutions, Cityworks Server AMS/PLL, and Cityworks Mobile. Server requires a network connection and provides access via a web browser; Mobile is a web app designed to work on small-screen devices, such as iPhones and BlackBerrys.

While Server provides full access to the system, Mobile has limited functionality because of its smaller display. Although this may limit field users on specific tasks, the Mobile application framework is very flexible, allowing it to be easily extended and expanded. From a functional perspective, Mobile application development shifts the focus from providing a complete field replacement for Cityworks to a smaller, task-specific web application where the user can quickly browse to a predefined list of work activities or permits for inspection in the field.

Cityworks has a high priority research and development initiative for cross-platform mobile applications for Apple iOS, BlackBerry, or Android. We anticipate building on recently developed mobile frameworks to increase the number of applications and mobile functionality to incorporate inherent mapping capabilities and GPS.

Through a partnership with Freeance Mobile, we will be supporting a BlackBerry application for Cityworks users within the year. This application, written specifically for the BlackBerry, will utilize Freeance Mobile, ArcGIS Server, and Cityworks work management capabilities; require no public URLs; and incorporate additional security features provided by Freeance.

Scheduling
Efforts are currently underway to enhance the existing scheduling capabilities in Cityworks. These include various combinations, such as scheduling projected/actual start/finish dates, proposed versus actual work activities, individual subtasks, and inspections, along with emailing scheduled activities. We recently introduced the capability to view and edit scheduled activities in various calendar formats. We expect to follow with an open integration calendaring capability using an ICS feed. The new calendar integration brings popular calendaring services (Google Calendar, Lotus Notes, Outlook, etc.) directly into Cityworks, allowing users to see their calendars and any shared calendars.

Reporting
Cityworks has a long tradition for supporting powerful, built-in searching and reporting tools, along with the ability to couple those with third-party reporting tools like Crystal Reports. Cityworks Server’s Inbox is an enterprise-wide, user-customizable reporting tool. In our last release of Cityworks 2010.1, Inbox was significantly enhanced to include easier viewing of multiple saved reports at one time in both chart and grid formats. (See “The New InBox” p. 28.) This is particularly useful in dynamic situations where up-to-the-minute reports are needed. Another enhancement to the Cityworks built-in reporting engine is the ability to integrate with Crystal Reports, so users can perform complicated queries and pass those results to Crystal for enhanced formatting.

In addition to continued development of the built-in reporting engine and Crystal Reports integration, Cityworks will soon include new time-enabled data in ArcGIS 10. Visualizing how data changes over time provides opportunities for powerful, more in-depth analysis by creating animations or recreating individual points in time. This functionality will support the analytical reporting tools for asset life cycle management.

Asset Life Cycle Analysis
While not strictly confined to the reporting sphere, the asset life cycle analysis capabilities are significant tools that will be useful in the long-term development of infrastructure maintenance and capital planning. These tools include condition assessment reporting, maintenance scores, map visualization of critical condition scores, and time-series visualization of condition and maintenance scoring. The data used for many of these tools will also be available to third-party modeling software, such as Riva and MWH Soft, designed to support strategic long-range physical asset planning.

Continuing Efforts
Our development team continues to pursue several avenues to enable our customers with the technology they need to manage daily operations, make good decisions, and use their resources in the most efficient and cost-effective way. Azteca Systems remains focused on developing management solutions with the clients’ needs in mind.

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